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Thursday, October 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Boise

Court approves class-action status for ACLU challenge of Idaho’s public defense system

An Idaho court has approved class-action status lawsuit for the case challenging Idaho’s public defense system as unconstitutional. The state of Idaho had strenuously opposed class action status for this case, arguing that the lawsuit should be limited to the four individuals who sued. The order from 4th District Judge Samuel Hoagland said, “This case will examine the State and the Public Defense Commission’s policies and practices concerning public defender services in the state of Idaho,” and decide “whether, by abdicating its responsibility to adequately fund, supervise, and administer indigent defense services to the counties, the State has failed to ensure that indigent defendants are provided with effective legal representation, all in violation of the United States and Idaho constitutions.”

You can read Hoagland’s ruling here.

The case has been brewing since 2015 when a group of four people across Idaho brought suit against the state and the members of the Idaho State Public Defense Commission, Boise State Public Radio reports. Backed by the ACLU of Idaho, the group claims public defenders are drastically overworked, meaning they don’t have time to investigate cases – or sometimes even meet with their indigent clients.

“Some of that stuff is really nonexistent – not because the public defenders are deficient in some way, but because really, the system and everything that’s been put in place to help them, there’s just not much there,” says Jeremy Woodson, a spokesman for the ACLU. He says that results in innocent people pleading guilty to get out of jail and rebuild their lives later.

With this ruling, tens of thousands of people facing charges in Idaho and can't afford a private attorney can join the lawsuit. The case had originally been dismissed, but the Idaho Supreme Court reversed that decision last April; you can read Boise State Public Radio’s full report here from reporter James Dawson.

The Idaho Attorney General’s office declined to comment.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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